For my friends who have walked the journey of the last six months in my life, they know it has been full of wildly vacillating ups and downs. We moved from our old house (with a gorgeous kitchen) to a different home. While the move wasn’t hard, no move is easy.
But it did involve a thousand different little choices.
- Where should we put this chair?
- Wait, we can’t put incoming mail four steps from the door like we used to…
- Where should we store towels so it’s accessible to all bathrooms?
- How do we store a lawnmower without having a shed?
- Where do I put the wastebaskets?!
A few weeks after the move, my organization broke down. I had true decision fatigue. My kids were going through a rough transition, so I stuffed away most of my problems to help keep them together.
And then everything broke apart when I developed shingles over Thanksgiving. Between the pain and exhaustion of shingles – and the mental exhaustion of moving stress, funerals, my husband traveling, and other big life events – I shut down.
As the days of bone-crippling exhaustion turned into weeks, I battled depression. It was a dark and difficult time.
The thought of feeding my family – from the work involved in prepping and cooking and cleaning up to the overwhelming decision fatigue of “what shall we eat?” — was enough to completely paralyze me.
Which is pretty humbling coming from someone who writes for a food blog.
It was then that a dear friend stepped in and rescued me and my family. Her gift was so profound and blessed us so tremendously, I just had to share. Her advice was very basic and an easy four steps.
1. Make a List of 7 Meals
My family struggles with some sensory processing issues when it comes to food. When I find a meal that doesn’t revolt everyone in the family, I call that a win. If everyone tolerates it, I call it victory. I’m sure this burden of “would-my-family-eat-this?” didn’t help my decision fatigue.
So I made a list of the 7 meals I knew would feed everyone. Ironically, they are the only 7 winners in my recipe box (yes, you may weep with me). I gave myself permission to give up the quest for new recipes and the pressure of problem solving.
I only needed 7.
2. Assign Each Meal to a Day
If you read my post about the six styles of menu planning, you’ll know that we’re big on food themes around here, like Taco Tuesday. We might have chicken fajitas, beef carnitas, or taco salad – it all fits within the vein of Taco Tuesday. (Apologies to anyone who has seen the Lego Movie and just had “Everything Is Awesome” start pumping through your head.)
But in this phase of life, even figuring out an item within that theme was exhausting. I’d put off the decision until too late in the day, requiring us to rely upon my Emergency Meal List. Daily. Everything was NOT awesome. By assigning a meal to each day (Roast Chicken on Monday, Taco Salad on Tuesday, Spaghetti on Wednesday…), I eliminated the decision fatigue and also gave myself something to depend on. I knew what sort of work I would have ahead of me and I could pace myself accordingly.
3. Make Those Meals Into Freezer Meals
There are approximately 4 weeks in every month, so since we were eating the exact same meal every Wednesday, I knew that I could make a large batch of spaghetti, divide it into four meal-sized servings, and freeze it.
This was where my friend gave me the biggest gift. She said, “Give me your groceries and I will make half of your freezer meals.” I almost broke down crying with gratitude. She volunteered to take all my beef dishes, making Spaghetti Sauce, Taco Beef, Chili, and Homemade Hamburger Helper for a total of 16 dinners. She froze everything in meal-sized bags and labeled them.
I was tasked with the remaining three chicken dishes, which I was able to knock out in an afternoon of work because batch freezer cooking really does save SO much time. It only takes a few seconds more to make four of something than it does just one.
If you’re really struggling to get meals for your family, you should seriously consider the Instant Pot (an electric programmable pressure cooker that’s as easy to use as a slow cooker). You can read more about how it has revolutionized my life.
But I promise you, one day of work is worth a month of freedom.
4. Repeat That Menu Every Week For a Month
There’s a small problem with freezer meals. You have to remember to THAW YOUR FOOD. To someone who is doing good to remember to put on pants, this can be a problem. (“Where are my paaaaaaants?” Sorry. Another Lego Movie reference.)
Because I know I’m doing a freezer meal every day, it’s easy for me to get into the groove of pulling out the next dinner before I go to bed. I’m remembering this daily task MUCH better than when I only sometimes did freezer meals.
Update: Nope, I really haven’t gotten much better at remembering to pull my meals out in advance. I’m extremely thankful that the Instant Pot can cook freezer meals directly from frozen. Phew.
The days are getting brighter and better for us. I’m on a prescription-strength vitamin D that makes all the difference in the world. I’m working with doctors to root out other physical issues that came to the surface and the journey is long, but worth it. Meanwhile, my energy continues to improve.
Before this experience, I had some friends who would meal plan for a month at a time. I always thought they were crazy. “How do you know what you’re going to want for a month?! What if you have something come up? How could you possibly plan so much?!”
I’ve learned I don’t have to plan for a month. I only have to plan for a week.
And because I’m pulling food out the night before, if I know I have company coming I can just pull out more food.
I’m so, so, so thankful to my friend who saved our dinners and served my family in this way. I’m getting to the end of my first month’s stash and I plan to continue this method for awhile. Having a month’s worth of dinners prepped, cooked, and ready to go is a bigger blessing than I could have ever described.
If you’re suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) you might want to check out Lori’s tips for dealing with SAD in the winter or about food causing depression. The tips are also perfect for depression or any other rough times.